The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Nats vs. Cardinals, 3/26/14 (Spring Training)

Seeing as there are no real stakes and the games are essentially meaningless, spring-training contests are generally pretty uneventful. Most veteran players go about their business, doing so without the passion that comes when the games that matter begin. But in today’s Spring Training game between the Nationals and Cardinals, the second-to-last on the Grapefruit League docket for the Nats, we got a little action, courtesy of the always passionate Bryce Harper. Here now is the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Nationals’ 3-2 loss.

THE GOOD

Gio Gonzalez’s final spring outing of 2014 was solid if unspectacular; he struck out four in five innings of work, allowing seven hits and three runs (just one of them earned). Gonzalez was victimized by some poor defense behind him, including a passed ball and a botched double play, but also struggled to put innings away, allowing two two-out RBI singles to Yadier Molina. Gonzalez finishes with a 2.94 ERA in 18.1 spring innings; he made 81 pitches in today’s game, setting himself up nicely for his first start of the regular season.

Ross Detwiler threw a 1-2-3 sixth inning, throwing 12 pitches and striking out the left-handed hitting John Jay on a good curveball. In four relief innings this spring, Detwiler allowed three runs (all in one outing) on three hits, walking three and striking out two.

— A day after finding out he had made the Opening Day roster, Aaron Barrett demonstrated exactly why the Nationals had so much faith in him.  The 26 year old righty put together another 1-2-3 frame, inducing two groundouts and a strikeout, while showcasing the slider considered to be the best in the organization by Baseball America:

barrett sliderIn 10.2 scoreless innings this spring, Barrett has given up just five hits, walked none, and struck out eight.

THE BAD

The Nationals’ offense once again seemed unable to figure out Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright. Wainwright went five innings today, allowing just one hit (a third inning single by Anthony Rendon), walking none, and striking out six. Wainwright has now thrown 14 scoreless innings against the Nats this spring, and went 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings against the team last year.

THE UGLY

— Leading off the top of the fourth inning, Bryce Harper hit a slow roller past Wainwright and towards the right side of the infield.  In one motion, second baseman Mark Ellis barehanded the ball, and flipped it to first, just in time to get Harper in the estimation of first base umpire Jeff Gosney.

harper ejected 2Harper was frustrated, either with the call or the fact that he had made an out.

harper ejected 4We won’t be sure exactly what Harper said until he tells us, but whatever it was, it caused Gosney to toss Harper from the game.  Because the games are meaningless, Spring Training ejections are fairly rare; I can only find only one other example of a player being ejected this spring.  At any rate, Harper not only had to leave the game, he had to leave the stadium as well:

harper ejectedThroughout his career, Harper has been given far less leeway to make mistakes than the average player due to the hype and reputation surrounding him — this ejection seems like another example of that fact.

The Nationals have just one more game in Florida; tomorrow, they head to Port St. Lucie to face the New York Mets.  Jordan Zimmermann will get the start for the Nats in the 12:10 contest, which will be televised on ESPN and MLB.tv.

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Nationals Roster Cuts — Down to 27

Aaron Barrett has made the Opening Day roster

Aaron Barrett has made the Opening Day roster.

Following their last home game of Spring Training, the Nationals made a series of roster cuts that have finally given shape to parts of their Opening Day roster.  All told, the Nationals cut five players today — they  optioned RHP Ryan Mattheus, LHP Xavier Cedeno, and 1B/LF Tyler Moore to AAA Syracuse, while serving outright release papers to utility infielder Jamey Carroll and RHP Chris Young.  Additionally, they have informed righty reliever Aaron Barrett that he has made the Opening Day bullpen.

Coming into today, the Nationals had active competition for three spots on their roster — the fifth starter, the final reliever, and the final bench spot.  So how do these cuts affect the composition of the team?

Carroll and Moore were thought to be the only two players competing for that final bench spot — if one of them didn’t get it, it seemed likely that the other would.  But having either one on the roster would seemingly create redundancy on the roster.  Moore’s value is as a right-handed bat to platoon with lefty swinger Adam LaRoche, but Ryan Zimmerman’s ability to play first seemingly eliminates the need to keep a roster spot open for such a player.  Similarly, Danny Espinosa fills Carroll’s presumed role of utility infielder quite nicely, as he has displayed the ability to play excellent defense at multiple positions over his career.  So instead, the Nationals are going in a different direction:

Kobernus, who recorded 45 stolen bases last year in time at Syracuse and in DC, would provide the Nationals with a pinch runner in key situations — a position on the bench previous manager Davey Johnson eschewed in favor of “hairy-chested bench bats.”  Meanwhile, keeping Leon on the roster would allow the Nationals to use Wilson Ramos as a pinch hitter in days where he doesn’t start (and the fact that they are considering utilizing a roster spot just to have Ramos pinch hit shows how highly the Nationals rate his bat).

Meanwhile, adding Barrett, a 26-year old reliever with a killer slider who, nonetheless, has never pitched beyond AA, to the Opening Day roster completes the Nationals bullpen.  It means the Nationals’ bullpen will initially contain five right handers (Barrett, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Rafael Soriano, and Tyler Clippard), and two lefties (Ross Detwiler and Jerry Blevins).  Furthermore, it means that the loser of the fifth starter battle — either Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan — will not then make the team as a long reliever.  Instead, they will be sent back to AAA Syracuse, where they will continue to start, ready to head to Washington in case of injury or ineffectiveness.  The Nationals were said to have been only considering using Roark in long relief, not Jordan, so this move might be a slight tip of the hand that Roark has earned the fifth starter job:

Keep in mind that major league rosters are extraordinarily fluid — the 25 men who will have their names announced at Citi Field on Monday are not going to be the same as the 25 men who are announced September 28th against the Marlins.  But after a long spring, today’s cuts have made manager Matt Williams’ vision of an ideal Opening Day roster quite clear.

 

Can Aaron Barrett or Blake Treinen Break Camp?

We’ve neared the end of Spring Training, and the Nationals roster is beginning to take shape. Players who impressed this Spring, like Zach Walters. Brock Peterson, A.J Cole, and Sammy Solis have departed for the minor leagues. But there are two names of the thirty left in big league camp who are both surprising and intriguing: relievers Blake Treinen and Aaron Barrett. With the news that Ross Detwiler would be moved to the bullpen, it seems that there is only one bullpen spot left with a whole host of pitchers (Ryan Mattheus, Mike Gonzalez, Xavier Cedeno) vying for that coveted last spot. So do Barrett and Treinen stand a chance?

In 2010, the Nationals drafted  Aaron Barrett with the 266th pick of the draft. Barrett, who was a starter at the University of Mississippi, immediately struggled in rookie ball, allowing 22 earned runs in 21 innings in his first season. His struggles were so bad, that he was considering giving up baseball. After his atrocious 2010 season, Barrett gave up starting pitching and was moved to the bullpen, where, in 2011, he continued to struggle with his command. However, something changed for Barrett in 2012. Barrett started the season in single-A with the Hagerstown Suns, where he impressed many by dropping his ERA to 2.60 in 34.2 before getting called up to single-A+ Potomac in July. In Potomac, Barrett continued to improve, compiling a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings. In 2013, Barrett played the entire season in AA Harrisburg, where, from the pen, he had a 2.15 ERA in 50.1 innings, while striking out 69 batters, and only walking 15. This offseason, Barrett received his first invite to major league camp, and thus far, he has not disappointed. In 8.2 innings this spring, Barrett has yet allowed a run, and has only allowed 4 base runners, while striking out 7. What makes Barrett so effective is his slider, which has been his main pitch throughout his career. Barrett also features a low-90’s fastball with sink, that Harrisburg Senators pitching coach Chris Michalak has described as a “bowling ball”.  What would give Barrett an edge over Treinen is the fact that last November, Barrett was placed on the 40-man roster, meaning that if he were to start the season in the majors, the Nationals would not need to designate any of their players for assignment.

Blake Treinen’s time in the Nationals organization has been much shorter than Barrett’s as Treinen was acquired last offseason along with AJ Cole and Ian Krol in Michael Morse trade. In his first season in professional baseball, Treinen was exclusively used as a relief pitcher. Then, in 2012, the single-A+ Stockton Ports shuttled Treinen from relief to starting pitching. By the end of the season, Treinen was almost exclusively used as a starting pitcher. After the before mentioned Michael Morse trade, Treinen was sent up to AA Harrisburg, where he started in 20 of 21 games he appeared in, posting a 3.64 ERA in 118.2 innings pitched with 2.61 K/BB ratio. Similarly to Barrett, this spring is Treinen’s first with a major league club. Even though his stats this spring haven’t been all that impressive, his stuff wows the scouts. Treinen’s repertoire is headlined by his 97 MPH slider, which has one scout saying that Treinen is absolutely one of the Nationals best 12 arms in the organization. However, Treinen’s raw stuff has not led to dominance in the minor leagues. His career K/9 of 7.7 is not particularly eye-popping. His 1.28 career WHIP is similarly uninspiring. On top of that, Treinen is not currently on the Nationals 40 man roster, which means that if he were to make the team, the Nationals most have to designate a player for assignment, with the most likely candidates being catcher  Jhonatan Solano or utility man Jeff Kobernus.   

It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are other pitchers also competing for that final bullpen spot. Mike Gonzalez, who was signed to a deal on March 4th, has struggled, compiling a 9.00 ERA in 4 appearances this spring. Xavier Cedeno has look good, but it is unlikely that the Nationals will want to carry a third lefty. Ryan Mattheus has been hurt the entire spring, and will most likely be ready for the start of the season. So that leaves Treinen and Barrett as two of the strongest viable candidates for the job. Even though Treinen’s raw talent is good enough to start in the majors, he has not yet harnessed it to become the dominate pitcher that his talent suggest. Barrett does not have the stuff that Treinen does, but he has shown more consistency in his last two seasons and against major league hitting this spring. If one of the two were to win the last spot, the Nationals would be wise to pick Aaron Barrett over Blake Treinen.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly: Spring Training Game 12 (Nats vs Astros)

On their second night game of the season, the Nationals took on the Houston Astros at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. Gio Gonzalez faced lefty Lucas Harrell in tonight’s match. A lack of offense and two bad innings doomed the Nationals, as they lost to the Astros 7-4. Here are the good, bad, and ugly from tonight’s game.

GOOD

Through the first five batters, Gio Gonzalez looked unstoppable, mowing down Astros batters left and right. Gonzalez was able to retire Dexter Fowler, Jonathan Villar, Jesus Guzman, Matt Dominguez, and Chris Carter (all of whom will be with the Astros on Opening Day) via the strikeout. His command was on point, and his fastball was overpowering. Unfortunately for Gio, he had to get one more out.

After struggling in his first appearance, Blake Trienen pitched excellently today, going three innings in relief of Gio Gonzalez. While he did walk two and give up two hits, he was able to get out of trouble with three strikeouts including Major Leaguers Dexter Fowler and Jesus Guzman.

Steven Souza Jr. showed off his power today, hitting his first home run of the spring off of Michael Foltynewicz in the bottom of the sixth, shrinking the Astros lead to 5.

Both Aaron Barrett and Tyler Clippard looked strong coming out of the pen, going a combined 2.1 innings with 4 strikeouts, while only allowing 3 batters to reach.

After just being recalled from minor league camp , shortstop Stephen Perez made the most of his appearance tonight, going 2 for 2 with a clutch single in the ninth to keep the Nationals hopes alive.

BAD

Jose Lobaton‘s poor Spring at the plate continued tonight, as the backup catcher went 0-2, lowering his batting average to a lowly .091. Lobaton, who has played in 5 games so far this spring, has gone hitless in his last 4 games.

Along with Lobaton both Jamey Carroll and Adam LaRoche were held hitless in tonight’s game.

UGLY

It was unfortunate that Gio Gonzalez had one more out to get in that second inning. After gave up an infield single to the speedy George Springer, the wheels came off. The next batter, Carlos Corporan, hit a wind-aided home run to give the Astros the 2-1 lead. Then, Gonzalez gave up a walk to former Oriole L.J. Hoes. After the walk, Gio gave up a double to minor leaguer Gregorio Petit, sending Hoes to third. After hitting Dexter Fowler with a stray curveball to load the bases, Gio finally recorded the third out of the inning, getting Jonathan Villar to fly out to center.

This outing couldn’t have been any worse for Rafael Soriano, who in just 2/3 of an inning, managed to give up 5 runs on 5 hits. The nadir of the outing was an RBI infield single to 6-4, 305 pound DH Japhet Amador, on which Soriano himself failed to make the play. Soriano’s fastball velocity was down a tick (he sat around 89-91, according to reports), and his slider was two different kinds of devastating — he threw a biting slider to Springer to strike him out, but threw several others with little to no break.  Soriano is notorious for his poor Spring Trainings (he put up an 8.10 ERA in 6.2 IP last March), but his struggles through his first two outings this spring have been a little unsettling.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Spring Training Game 7 (Nats vs Braves)

This seems like the 100th time this Spring that these two teams have played each other. Tonight, the Nationals started Jordan Zimmermann to face Julio Teheran of the Braves. The Nationals lineup was filled with bench players and minor leaguers galore, with the exception of Anthony Rendon/Danny Espinosa (depends on who you ask).  Nationals gave the Braves there second Spring win, losing 3-2 on a walk off single. We look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from this game.

GOOD

Jordan Zimmermann continues the trend of Washington Nationals starting pitchers who look good in Spring Training, sans Ross Detwiler. Zimmermann’s started the game going 1-2-3, including a strikeout of Justin Upton. In the second inning, Zimmermann got Evan Gattis to ground out, which was then followed up by a Chris Johnson single. However, nothing amounted out of that base hit, as Zimmermann was able to strikeout Dan Uggla and get Andrelton Simmons to ground out. Then, Jordan Zimmermann did something that no other Nationals starting pitcher has done this Spring, pitched in the third inning. The third was Zimmermann’s most eventful inning, as he gave up an infield single to Matt Lipka and a walk to Justin Upton. But Zimmermann was able to get out of a jam by striking out Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. Final line on Jordan Zimmermann: 3.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K’s.

Will Rhymes is a very unlikely candidate to make the Nationals out of Spring Training, but today, he looked very good in the starting role. Rhymes, who started today at third, had a very solid day with the bat, going 2 for 3 with 2 singles. In a game with little offense, Rhymes was a highlight.

Anthony Rendon started this Spring on a sour note, going 0 for 7 with 5 strike outs. However, today, Rendon broke his mini-slump with a 2 for 3 performance with 2 singles. Another player snapping their Spring hitless streak was fellow infielder, Danny Espinosa, whose single in the first snapped his 0 for 10 streak. 

Aaron Barrett was recently featured in an Washington Post article, where writer Adam Kilgore anointed him as a potential future closer for the Nationals. Barrett, who was almost out of baseball in 2010, has managed to build his way through the Nationals farm system all the way to AA, where he posted a 2.15 ERA and piled up 69 strikeouts in 501 / 3 innings. Today, Barrett made his second appearance of the Spring, retiring the Braves in order in the 6th.

Chris Snyder‘s chances to make the team were shot down when the Nationals acquired Jose Lobaton back on February 13th. But that won’t stop Snyder from trying, as he hit a big home run in the bottom of the ninth to cut the Braves lead in half, and starting the Nationals ninth inning rally.

BAD

Tyler Moore has looked sloppy all this Spring. His woes continued today where he had two poor plays, one with the bat and one in the field. In the top of the third inning, Moore came up to bat with runners on first and second an one out, hoping to take brake the 0-0 tie. However, Moore did no such thing, as he rolled over a pitch to a fastball to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to start a 6-4-3 double play, and end the inning. Then, in the bottom of the third, Moore was holding on the runner, Matt Lipka, at first. When Lipka was slowly walking back to the bag, catcher Jose Lobaton made a snap throw to try to catch the snoozing Lipka. Not only did Lobaton catch Lipka off guard, but he also caught Moore of guard, as Moore wasn’t expecting the throw, and let the ball get by him. The error allowed Matt Lipka to get all the way to third, and made Tyler Moore look foolish.

UGLY

Ross Ohlendorf did not have a good day. Ohlendorf, who was making his spring debut, started off the sixth inning by loaded the bases on singles and by Edward Salcedo and Andrelton Simmons and a walk to Dan Uggla. Then, Ohlendorf gave up the tie with a single to Todd Cunningham. After that single, Ohlendorf started to feel some discomfort in his lower back, leading to Matt Williams and trainer Lee Kuntz to pull the pitcher from the game.

The Nationals take on the Astros tomorrow at 1:00 PM. Doug Fister takes on Brett Oberholtzer at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. You can hear Charlie and Dave call this game on WJFK 1580 AM and WFED 1500. The game can also be heard on the Astros broadcast through Nationals.com or the MLB At Bat app.